Committing to Celibacy

I love Disneyland. Always have, always will. You can rail against the consumerism, crowds, expense, and all other evils Disney inflicts upon the world and I will not budge in my love of this magical place. As I walk down Main Street and look up at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, I see magic and whimsy and fun. Sleeping Beauty is, in fact, my favorite of the classic Disney movies on which I grew up. Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather will always make me smile and laugh. Maleficent is a fabulous villain who turns into one of my favorite creatures of all, a magnificent dragon. Prince Phillip is by far the most dashing of the classic Disney princes, and his horse, Samson, is brilliant. The incredible use of Tchaikovsky’s waltz makes my soul soar, and the widescreen background paintings by Eyvind Earle inspired by the Flemish and German styles of Van Eyck, Bruegel, and Durer are stunning works of art in each and every scene.

Yet, there is one thing that bothers me to no end, that rubs the wrong way against every feminist fiber of my being – the waiting. Aurora spends her life, protected as Briar Rose, in the forest with her fairy godmothers until her 16th birthday when she will both be finally free of a potential curse and also get to jump right into an arranged marriage. She falls asleep, and must wait for her prince to kiss her to break the spell. Her life is actually on hold until this happens, and not just her life, but that of her parents and the whole kingdom. Everything hinges on her waiting. Her life doesn’t start until she is rescued by her man. She has no power, no choice, but to wait.

The Sleeping Beauty by Edward Coley Burne-Jones

I didn’t grow up in the “Purity Movement” of the 90’s, but I was adjacent to it and I can’t help but notice the parallels between that lifestyle and Briar Rose’s. Like Snow White, those of us who grew up in Christian circles are often taught that “someday [our] prince will come” and then we can fulfill our roles as godly women by being wives and mothers. Oh yeah, and then we can finally have sex, the sex we’ve been holding out on so we can be the perfect pure brides on our wedding night.

So what happens when our perfect prince never shows up? Do we continue to wait and wait and wait, holding out hope that he’ll appear and we’ll be sexy-yet-pure brides later in life, when we’re a little plumper and saggier and a lot less patient? What if it turns out that some of us aren’t even attracted to the prince, but would prefer a princess? What then? What if the princes we like just don’t like us back, but choose other princesses instead?

Do we throw what the Bible says about sex out the window and just have at it with whomever we like? Do we listen to what much of the world teaches about sex, that it’s a necessity, a right, a rite of passage to maturity, or not that big a deal? Do we grow frustrated, bitter toward the church and perhaps even God for not following through on the things we thought we were promised?

When what we are taught about sex as Christian children can be boiled down to “wait until marriage to have sex” even with “because this is how God designed sex and it’s better for you” added on, a lot of us are left flailing around to find our own way. Because, well, it assumes we will get married to some snazzy godly man, and probably sometime between high school and the age of 32. So what about the rest of us? The man who would love to get married, but the women he’s interested in just aren’t into him. The woman who fell in love once or twice, but it was never reciprocated. The man who has never been attracted to women, but yearns for another man. The woman who has no interest in men as anything other than friends. The divorcee, widow, or widower who had a lover they thought would be lifelong, but instead is lost to them. The rather surprisingly large amount of us who just end up waiting a lot longer than we thought we would.

Waiting, as a theology of sex, sucks. It requires a fulfillment at some point for it to work. When one waits, one assumes there will be an end to it. Rather than WAITING for sex we should COMMIT to chastity. And this commitment to chastity should be between us and God. No one else. Other than just being a bit creepy, the whole promise ring to someday be replaced by an engagement ring then wedding ring thing is flawed. This turns our promise for purity into one made to an imaginary future spouse, which brings up the issue mentioned above. If anything, this purity for a future spouse is a mere side effect of the greater beauty. It is good, yes, and is indeed God’s plan for Christian marriage, but it is not the main purpose of chastity.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 shows us that everything, even our very bodies, are meant for the Lord.

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.  “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

We are not our own. We should choose to be chaste because that is what the Lord requires of us, what glorifies him. Because if he truly is the Lord of our lives, that should mean our entire lives. Our relationship with God as single people committed to him so much that we trust him even with our own bodies and desires is beautiful, and so much deeper than purity for the sake of a maybe-someday-possible marriage. When we say to God, “I desire to have sex, to feel that connection with another person, to enjoy that pleasure, but I trust you with everything in my life, even this” we are trusting that he is good and his plans are best. This is just another of many areas in which a single person can practice putting God and his desires for us first, rather than giving in to our own desires. It is not easy. It can hurt, can even break our hearts, but it is the evidence of a true commitment – one to our heavenly father instead of another person. Trusting ourselves in his hands. Celibacy is a beautiful act of worship.

My encouragement to anyone who is single is that you research what the Bible actually has to say about chastity and sexuality because it is a much deeper, more beautiful, more whole theology than the perfunctory teachings of “wait until marriage.” Romans 12:1-2 says, 

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Please don’t think I’m trying to give all the answers to all people regarding this complicated subject in one short post. There is much more to say, and I hope to continue this conversation in the comments, in future blogs, and in personal conversations. I just hope to see generations of single men and women who do not merely wait, but actively choose to worship God in our bodies and with our very desires and dreams. May we trust in God so much that we can sing to him the way the Sons of Korah do in Psalm 84:

“How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of Hosts!
My soul longs, yes,
faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for you
to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young, at your altars,
O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise!
Selah
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.
O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob!
Selah
Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed!
For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper
in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you!”

Don’t Just Bide Your Time

I’m meant to be working on another draft of this second blog in the “What Do You Believe About Singleness” series, but instead I am distracted, scrolling through all my friends’ Mother’s Day photos on Instagram. In my family, over the past 3 years since we’ve had the little ones around, we celebrate mums, grandmas, and aunts. Pretty much all the women who love the littles, and the not-so-little-anymores. And this means the world to me. As a woman who very likely will never have or raise kids of her own, being part of the team that raises my nephews and niece, my godson and goddaughter, my friends’ children, and my students is incredibly special to me. So here’s to all the mums and all the other women who raise up kids in this world, who teach them to love God and love each other, and hopefully to love reading and bugs and bubbles and space and fake tattoos and adventures while they’re at it.

I’m also texting (and praying for and weeping for) my friend whose mother is currently in hospital dying, at a loss for the right words as there are no words that can make death right. So here’s to everyone who has lost their mothers, or never had them in the first place – may God grant you strong women to hold you up when you are broken, to laugh with you until you cry, and to remind you just how loved you are by God.

You see, my first point in looking at singleness based on the theological view presented in my last blog is that we need to choose not to just bide our time as singles until we’re married. We need to use our time well. And, in this season of my life, being part of this semi-connected family currently celebrating or grieving their mothers is my world. Father’s Day will come soon enough, and I’ll be among the mourners, and I will need my brothers, and brother-in-law, and best friends, and pastors, and other guy friends to remind me to carry on as much as I need to celebrate the women in my life today. That’s how this works, this living in community thing. We get through it together, the good, the bad, and the ugly. So singles, if you haven’t surrounded yourself in a community like this yet, it’s time to build one.

You see, singleness is not the waiting room for life, for growing up, for being wandering lone wolves; it IS life. It’s neither a time to sit back and think, “someday, when I’m married, then I’ll . . .” or “when I have a family, then I could . . .” James 4:14 warns us “yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” My sister discovered a giant dead moth in my niece’s fairy garden this afternoon. What a juxtaposition of life, this gorgeous creature that lives for such a short time, next to the beautiful imaginary world of my 3 year old little love! And we were reminded, this, right now, is the life God has given us on earth. How are you going to use yours?

Single people are some of the busiest I know. Or maybe that’s just because I spent the last decade in Los Angeles, where singles lead rather hectic urban lives. We work, and we work hard, often putting in more hours than our married-with-kids counterparts. You won’t see most of us calling in sick because we have to stay home with a sick child, or leaving work early because we must carpool with our spouse when the other car’s in the shop. The single childless professional doesn’t need to rush off to pick the kids up from school or take a long lunch to get them to the dentist. We just work long hours. We rarely take time off. We tend to come in even when we’re sick rather than use sick time. Yet, like our married counterparts, we still need family time. Our family time may look a bit different, more like basketball every Thursday evening with the guys, Happy Hour Wednesday after work with the girls, hours babysitting the niece and nephew, watching MST3K with the besties, or Skype dates with the parents, but it is still family time for us. It is still necessary for a full, God-glorifying, sustainable life.

It is easy for us to get caught up in the day to day plans, the minutia of life as it is in this moment, but we can’t keep waiting for big life events to change how we are living. We need to stop and take stock of our lives frequently. We need to pause and figure out what our goals are for this season instead of waiting for another one before we fulfill them. We need to spend time in scripture and in prayer to reassess what our goals should even be. And, we need to be willing to make some big moves, deep commitments now, not in some far off tomorrow.

One of the coolest things about singleness is often being a bit more open to what God has for us. While we should still seek wise counsel and make careful decisions, ultimately the choice of what we do with our lives rests on our shoulders, not someone else’s. Are you using this freedom? Or are you wasting your time?

Here are some questions to ask yourself about your current season in life:

  • How can I be part of a family with people I can care for who will care for me?
  • How can I be lifting up God’s name at work, with friends, with family?
  • How can I not just be busy, but use my time wisely, including rest?
  • How can I be involved in a ministry for which God has suited me?
  • How can I better love the people in my life? In my city?
  • How can I develop gifts God has given me into skills?
  • How can I ENJOY God today?

The Westminster Shorter Catechism is a favorite of mine, beginning with:

Question 1. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

So what are you doing today to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever? What are you doing to help others do the same? Don’t just bide your time, thinking one day in the future I’ll rethink my life, because it’s not just the Steve Miller Band who think “time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.” Let us live our lives today in a way that we, like Christ, can say to our Father in heaven “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4).

What Do You Believe About Singleness?

One of my dear friends texted me a couple days ago to say that her senior-in-high-school son asked her if being single was a sin. He was concerned about this after hearing a woman ask for prayer that God would give her a husband and children. I don’t know much else about the context, but can assume that the attitude in which she asked made it seem like she was doing something wrong by not having the spouse + 2.5 kids yet. It broke my heart to know this worried him, because this young man is such a particularly awesome human being. If the American church is making even our teenagers feel bad for being single, how much more must those of us who are older, having been single longer, feel we are doing something wrong?

It’s time for the modern American church to look more closely at what the Bible has to say about the single life, and ask ourselves if not only our words are backing this up, but our tones, our insinuations, and our actions. Many times have I had a pastor or Bible teacher preach truth from the pulpit, saying that singleness is a valid lifestyle choice, a gift from the Lord, then turn around and try to set up all the single women with the single men. In order to counteract young Christians having sex before marriage, many churches champion young marriages and hold them up as the gold standard. The message this sends is confusing and can even be harmful. 

This weekend I was able to speak on singleness at a conference at my home church, Cornerstone West LA. I was asked to discuss how having a biblical view of singleness practically affects our lives. Since I was only able to spend about 5 minutes on each of my main points, I’m going to spend the next few weeks delving into each one a little more in depth.

Let me start with some basics by going into a bit of the theology behind my views on singleness. Rather than forming our opinions on Christian singleness on the cultural standards of today, let’s find our standards in things above. Being single does not mean we are missing something. There is not some gaping hole in us that can only be filled by our soul mate. We are not lacking. 

2 Peter 1:3 claims “his divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”

The Greek term used here for “has granted” is in the Greek perfect passive tense, which means the action has already been completed and we now are experiencing the final results of it; the passive part means it was done for us, not by us. This means that God has already given us ALL THINGS that pertain to life and godliness and we get to live in the fruit of that. Nothing is lacking. This is a statement which applies to all who are called to his own glory, every Christian. God is not withholding anything from single men and women that we could possibly need for life and godliness.

Sometimes, however, I still feel like I’m missing something. I can look around at my friends who are married or are getting married, friends who have great boyfriends, friends who have kids and dogs and are on their husband’s excellent health insurance, and think what have I done wrong for God to punish me? Here I am balancing 3 part time jobs, filling out paperwork for the Affordable Care Act which may or may not exist tomorrow, and it’s in times like these that I must remind myself that my Father is good, and loves me, and only gives good to his children.

Matthew 7:9-11 says, “or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to given good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

From this, we can assume that if we’ve been asking our Father in heaven for a spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend for awhile and it has yet to happen, that this is for our good. Instead, He has given us the specific gift of what he knows we actually need, what will be best for us. The good might not be readily apparent, but it is there. This includes Him gifting some of us singleness, whether temporarily or permanently, and others marriage.

In 1 Corinthians 7:7, Paul says “I wish that all were as I myself am [single]. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind, and one of another.”

Do you truly believe this, that singleness is as much of a gift as marriage?

If you are unhappily single and struggling with some things because of this, know that the solution to this struggle is not actually marriage. Lust, loneliness, selfishness, fear about the future, difficulty trusting God with our lives, questions of who we are and our value, all of these issues and more would still be there if you were to marry today. You might trade out a couple for some new ones, but most will not be solved by adding a spouse to your life. This is because it is not another human who will “complete us.” 

Freakin’ Jerry McGuire (look it up if you’re young) and other rom-coms use lines like this, but it is a lie. Only Christ can complete us.

Philippians 1:6 promises “and I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Rather than thinking the guy needs to get the girl at the end of every action movie and video game, that every story needs to end with the Jane Austen double wedding or the Hollywood happily ever after, let’s place our eyes firmly on the promises of the Lord and put our futures in his hands. All other promises are built on shaky ground, but his rely on the perfect nature of one who loves his children and will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

So, rather than thinking that the solution to all of our problems is marriage, we need to start looking at our struggles and try to figure out why we have them in the first place. What is the heart of the issue?

For singletons like me, we should ask ourselves this question:

Will I be fine if I never marry?

If your answer is no, ask yourself why not? Your answers to this follow up question will give you a great place to start looking at your heart issues. Journal, jot them down in your phone, tell them to a friend. Then start looking at what the Bible has to say about your fears, concerns, and discontentment. I’m convinced you will find that marriage cannot solve these issues, that trusting in our God’s sovereignty is a much better starting point than hoping in some possible future human.

For my married readers with kids, ask yourself this:

Will I be fine if my children never marry?

If your answer is no, ask yourself why not? Then ask yourself if you want God’s will for your children’s lives, or your own will? Look into what the Bible has to say about marriage and singleness and see if you are aligned with God, or just with our culture and your personal preferences.

I have been through many stages of singleness in my life so far, and probably have many more to come so I don’t want to pretend this is an easy issue. In some moments I am more than content with the way things are in my life, but others have been painful and heartbreaking. Know that this is probably true for our married friends and family as well. As one of my fellow panel members from last night mentioned, “life is hard.” And it is hard for everyone, not just single people. You can make it a bit less difficult for yourself and your single friends by speaking about singleness and thinking about it in a biblical way instead of a worldly one.

We are loved.
We are complete in Christ.
We have been given a good gift.
God has plans for us for our good and his glory.
God does not withhold good gifts from his children.
God has given us everything we need to live a godly life.

Let’s try to re-frame our thoughts from this starting point. In the upcoming weeks I’ll be looking at five practical ways this theology should affect how we singletons think and live out our lives with hope and joy and love. I hope you’ll join me.